The night's rain had trailed off into a misty drizzle by the time Greg managed to get himself out of the tent and into the stream. It was later than they'd managed the previous morning and the sky was paling rapidly, but it was still dark and cool beneath the trees. A fish jumped, somewhere in the darkness, and the sound of the splash echoed amongst the rocks. The mist lay heavy over the river.
Greg had shrugged on a scruffy oilskin over his jumper – old school maybe, but better than any modern, ultralight, silicon-impregnated thing. The mist condensed in beads on the oilskin's surface and lay thickly in his hair; droplets slipped down the neck of his shirt, and over the backs of his chilled hands.
Musingly, he tied the first fly and waded out into the stream. The first rush of cold water over the tops of his wellingtons woke him far more effectively than his usual morning coffee. He'd be lying if he claimed he'd slept much. The conversation he'd overheard between John and Sherlock had churned round in his head, refusing to be banished, until his brain was buzzing with tiredness. Greg cast the line out into the dark water and scowled viciously. He didn't know what the fuck to do.
Mary Watson had shot Sherlock Holmes. And Greg didn't know what to think about that.
He'd known Mary a couple of years now. She'd sat down beside him one evening when he'd been ordering drinks in a pub in Bexley. She'd flirted with him, and he'd brought her back to his table to meet the rest of the gang. John had been with them, tucked dismally in a corner, playing with the condensation on the outside of his glass. Mary had asked him who had died.
Mary wore bright lipstick and liked colourful clothes. She bit her lip with her mouth turned up at the corners when she was trying not to grin. She was small and curvy and– Greg thought privately – less pretty than some of John's other girlfriends. She had cheeky, trouble-maker's eyes and sometimes snorted when she laughed. She liked Sherlock.
It didn't make sense. Not just in the usual how-could-she-do-such-a-thing, no-one-ever-suspected kind of way. He was used to that. Those people always had something about them – something that their friends and relatives tried to dismiss or make excuses for, but that rang all sorts of alarm bells in his own head. Mary had none of that. She could be dismissive or manipulative, a little cruel, but who couldn't be? He might have missed the signs on his own, sure, but there was no way on earth, absolutely no way, that Sherlock could have failed to notice.
He thought suddenly of a dinner party they'd had, a few weeks after John and Mary's wedding. Mary had been showing Molly photo albums, and Molly had been rapturous in her praise. Mary had been wry and trenchant as ever: "Thank god we got at least one photo where the groom and the best man weren't gazing lovingly into one another's eyes." He'd thought that she was joking, at the time, but now he wondered.
Christ, it didn't make sense. Greg was a homicide detective. Over the course of his career he'd encountered every reason there was for pulling a gun, and then some. And sure, he could make a case for provocation: Sherlock was the single most annoying arsehole on the face of the planet; show him a copper who hadn't fantasised about shooting Sherlock Holmes and he'd show you a liar. And John, whatever he said, was head over heels for the tosser, which gave Mary more incentive than most. But it still didn't fit. Mary had known that before she married John, she'd joked about it. So what in Christ's name could have happened to change all that?
There was a tug on Greg's line and, moodily, he reeled it in. A good-sized trout, fighting hard. Usually Greg would have enjoyed the struggle, enjoyed landing it with the maximum of flair, but today his heart wasn't in it. As soon as the fish was in close enough he swung it out and onto the bank. It fought, tail slapping against the grass, and he pinned it with a knee to stop it sliding back. He jammed his rod upright between a couple of rocks and drew the knife from his pocket. One-handed, he flicked it open, and slid it up behind the gills. The thrashing subsided to a shuddering twitch.
The blade, when he drew it out, was dark with blood and he wiped it neatly on the grass. Annie had always hated this part, he remembered. She had always shuddered and looked away, as if Greg were barbaric and the act itself obscene. On the one occasion she'd landed a fish of her own she'd stood vacillating on the bank, unable to strike the blow, while the fish had gasped and thrashed, ever more frantic and agonised, until Greg had yelled at her to "Just kill it, goddamn you". It was one of the only occasions in their marriage that he could remember having raised his voice.
If you could kill a fish, Greg had always thought, you could kill a person. The principle was the same.
If he was honest with himself, he didn't much like this part either.
By 6.30, the sky was beginning to lighten, the very edges of the mist starting to curl and burn away. Greg jammed the rod under his arm to blow on his chilled hands.
His fly had been dragged into the lee of a waterlogged and half-submerged tree trunk. He pulled it back and cast again, enjoying the whistle of the line. He wiggled his toes inside his wellingtons, trying to get some warmth back into his numb feet. He heard a fish jump; and then, a moment later, another. The ripples swelled outwards towards him, silvery in the early light.
He could hear the low thrum of an engine, loud against the quiet of the morning. It took him a while to realise that it was getting closer. He turned to watch as the vehicle drew off the gravel road and through the gate into the field. A sleek dark-green land rover, bouncing slightly over the grass. The driver cut the engine and it coasted to a halt next to their camp site, looking particularly glossy alongside the battered, beige-ish model that he'd borrowed from his brother.
The driver's door opened and a man stepped out, tall and spare and a little gangly-looking. He wore an old-fashioned tweed suit and a pair of brown leather boots with gaiters, and looked altogether as though he'd just stepped from the pages of Rodd and Gunn. Greg couldn't help the grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth.
Mycroft Holmes pocketed the land rover's keys and inclined his head solemnly in Greg's direction. He cast a half-glance in the direction of the tent, but instead began to pick a stately course down the bank towards the river. When he was within hailing distance, Greg raised a hand in acknowledgement.
"You're up early."
Mycroft gave a small smile. "I rather enjoy early morning drives."
Greg quirked an eyebrow at him, returning the smile.
"What are you doing here?"
Mycroft came to stand at the edge of the bank, his hands clasped behind his back. Raising himself on the balls of his feet, he looked down into the stream, directing his response to the water:
"I am also rather fond of fishing, as it happens."
It might have been Greg's imagination, but he thought there was a faint flush colouring Mycroft's cheeks. It was difficult to tell with him concentrating so carefully on the toes of his own boots.
There was something about Mycroft's posture that gave him pause. A slight awkwardness in the narrow set of his shoulders, a slight tension in the hands clasped politely behind his back. The tips of Mycroft's ears were faintly pink. With his eyes lowered, the sweep of dark lashes against his cheekbones resembled Sherlock's.
It struck him suddenly that Mycroft Holmes must be the loneliest man on the planet.
"Ehm, sorry," Greg offered, feebly. "I would've invited you if I'd known." It wasn't exactly the truth, but Mycroft had the grace not to call him out on it.
Mycroft's eyes flicked up towards him, polite and self-assured, for all their discomfort.
"I hope I'm not intruding?" he said, at the same time as Greg's awkward: "I just assumed you'd be busy I guess."
Mycroft smiled, a slight quirk with the left corner of his mouth.
Greg found himself smiling back, feeling his grim mood beginning to lift. Mycroft was a friend. An awkward one maybe; one you couldn't exactly play the lad or get drunk with, but a friend all the same.
"Grab your rod," he said. "Plenty of water for both of us."
"I'd like to ask you to forget about it, Inspector."
Mycroft's voice was low and precisely-modulated, his intonation very correct. Greg turned in surprise, the fly he had been tying forgotten.
"What?" he said, stupidly.
Mycroft was looking directly at him. His expression was all civility, but the eerie grey eyes still gave Greg the impression that he was being mesmerised.
"Sherlock," Mycroft elaborated, with an airy wave of his hand. "Sherlock, John… Ms. Morstan. I'd like you to forget about it."
Greg shook his head. "You know I can't do that."
"Not personally, no. What's known cannot be unknown, after all." He raised his brows in an expression that, to Greg, looked somehow wistful. "I'm not asking you as Sherlock's friend. But professionally... as a personal favour."
Greg frowned, looking down at the fly in his hands to avoid that piercing gaze.
"No point in asking you how you know I know," he said, rhetorically. "But will you at least tell me why? Don't you want her brought in?"
"You know how much John means to Sherlock," he began, obliquely. "At the moment, John is angry, as he has every right to be; but eventually that anger will cool."
Mycroft drew a long breath through his nose, his chest expanding beneath the ridiculous country tweed. Greg wondered where all this was going.
"Someone is trying to get to Sherlock through Mary, and through Sherlock to me. And we have let them, Inspector. Once again, we have played the long game, my brother and I, at the expense of many people, but most especially at the expense of John Watson."
A fish had taken Mycroft's line, and he reeled it in with practised ease. Greg found himself admiring the surety of Mycroft's hands; the understated competence with which they drew the hook from the gasping mouth, and the efficient flick of the knife. They were like Sherlock's hands in their dexterity, but without Sherlock's impetuousness, without that constant, restless motion.
"What John will do, I wonder?" Mycroft asked. "When he finds that his child, his marriage, his future, everything he has longed for, have been jeopardised, once again, by the Holmes brothers?"
Over his shoulder, he flashed Greg a small, self-deprecating smile. "Were John to decide that he wanted no more part of it, were he to take his child and go, as he would be well within his rights to do, I do not honestly think that Sherlock could bear it."
(And what touches my brother, his expression seemed to say, touches me).
Greg was quiet awhile, still watching Mycroft's hands. He knew what he wanted to say; he just didn't know the right words.
"I think maybe you're not giving John enough credit," he said at last. He swallowed, watching the slow spinning of a yellowed leaf, his face turned from Mycroft and his unsettling, perceptive eyes.
"I think John's in love with him."
It came out more baldly than he had intended, and Greg hastened to repair the damage, uncomfortably aware of Mycroft's eyes on the back of his neck.
"That is… I don't mean… John wouldn't just walk away. Not from him."
Greg felt uncomfortably as though he were betraying a trust. It wasn't anything that John had told him, not explicitly; but he felt as though he'd been privy, this weekend, to a part of them that people seldom saw, a secret that wasn't his to share.
"Gregory," Mycroft said softly, and the rare use of his first name made him look up. Mycroft's eyes held his, and Greg found himself wishing he could take it back.
"Sorry. Forget I said anything. It's not…"
"No," Mycroft cut in. "I understand entirely. But –" he hesitated. "There are some things, for some people, that are more difficult to acknowledge than to know."
In the soft silence that followed this remark, Greg heard a muffled exchange of voices from the tent behind them. There were the sounds of a scuffle, and the blue canvas bobbed and tugged at its guy ropes with the motion. He heard John's yelp, and a giggle, and the low rumble of Sherlock's laughter.
The smile with which Mycroft favoured him was sad, and strangely sweet.
"I think perhaps it is too late for that particular Rubicon."
It was past ten o'clock, and Greg and Mycroft were sitting on the bank drinking black, bitter coffee by the time two tousled and yawning heads emerged from between the tent flaps. Greg's eyes travelled with amusement from John's crumpled shirt and dishevelled hair to Sherlock's flushed chest and pink cheeks. Mycroft, by his supercilious smirk, found it equally amusing.
Sherlock wriggled on all fours from beneath the tent, nudging the canvas out of the way with his head. He crawled several feet into the field, trailing John's sleeping bag, and stopped dead.
"What're you doing here?"
Mycroft's smirk widened.
"I invited him," Greg said hastily, hoping to forestall the inevitable argument.
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "You didn't."
"He did, as a matter of fact."
"Only after you'd already arrived."
"I happen to enjoy fishing."
"You also enjoy assassinations and the threat of nuclear warfare."
Mycroft smiled reminiscently. "True."
"What are you doing here?" John asked, plonking himself down next to Greg and reaching for the coffee. Mycroft passed him a clean mug with exaggerated courtesy.
"Aren't I allowed to check up on my baby brother?"
Sherlock scowled. "No."
"But you've been having so much fun," Mycroft said, arching a fastidious eyebrow. "Though if you don't mind, I shall steer clear of the scantily-clad fireside frolicking."
"A mercy for which we are all immensely thankful, believe me."
John frowned. "Ok, how?"
"Really, Doctor Watson, it was simplicity itself. The traces of a large fire encircled by scuffed grass and muddy footprints. From the sodden clothing strewn about the place, I infer that some kind of impromptu dip took place… Though I note with interest that Inspector Lestrade is the only one of you who has since bothered to change his underpants." He wrinkled his nose in distaste.
John glanced reflexively down at his own crotch. Sure enough, his lower half was still clad in last night's grass-stained and wrinkled boxer shorts. "Oh bloody hell."
It had been, John mused contentedly, a near-perfect day. He sat sprawled in one of the last-remaining patches of sunlight, a bottle of beer in his left hand. Sherlock lay beside him, his fingers steepled in front of his mouth and his mind somewhere else entirely. The sun still lent a gleam of warmth, though the earth beneath them had already begun to cool as the shadows drew in. A few hundred metres downstream, Greg and Mycroft were just beginning to pack away their rods.
He wasn't quite sure how, but John felt better. His late-night talk with Sherlock had released something, as though a catch in his chest had somehow been loosened. He didn't know what he was going to do, but he knew, somehow, that things would work out. Didn't they always? As long as Sherlock was there, he'd be ok.
They packed slowly, too content in the fading afternoon to hurry. Sherlock lay on the bank, still buried in his mind, but Mycroft lent a hand without complaint. As Greg slammed the tray of the land rover closed, Sherlock finally stirred. He rolled to his feet with the usual effortless grace, and favoured John with a rare smile.
"I thought perhaps you two might like to take my car," Mycroft said, proffering his keys to John. "Providing, that is, that you do not mind my begging a lift of you, Inspector? We are going in approximately the same direction, after all."
Greg looked a little startled, but he nodded. "Yeah, no worries. Saves me fighting my way through to Baker Street."
"Guess that's it then," John said, a little awkwardly, offering his hand. "Thanks Greg. It's been good."
Greg shook the offered hand, clapping him roughly on the shoulder. "Any time. Really."
Mycroft raised his eyebrows at Sherlock, who coughed ungraciously.
"Yes… Thank you Lestrade. It has been… informative."
Greg chuckled. "No charge."
He swung himself up into the driver's seat, and Mycroft got in beside him. He turned the land rover and swung it up towards the gate, raising a hand in the rear-view mirror in farewell.
"What was all that about?" John asked, as the tail lights bounced and lurched away up towards the road. Sherlock's mouth twitched.
"If I am not very much mistaken, my brother is attempting to make a friend."
John blinked. "You can't be serious. Greg?"
Sherlock shrugged. "Why not?"
"Well… That's… novel. I mean good on him, and that…" he tailed off, looking up the hill towards the road. Then he chuckled, a little embarrassed, and glanced up to meet Sherlock's eye. "Friends are – y'know – making friends is good."
Sherlock laughed, leaning over to filch the keys from John's pocket.
"I've never regretted it," he said.
Author's Note: Thanks everyone for your kind reviews. :-) This is the end of the road for this particular story, but I've just started posting another (with actual plot!) for those who are interested. It has the advantage of being at least 30% written already, so hopefully you shouldn't be left waiting so long for updates! Cheers. - Evermind.